DC Animated Movies

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full decade since the first DC Universe Animated Original Movie arrived on the scene. SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY came at a time when many fans, myself included, were still grieving over the loss of the DC Animated Universe. The DCAU began with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES in 1992 and ended with the series finale of JUSTICE LEAGUE: UNLIMITED in 2006. I remember being ecstatic when DOOMSDAY was announced. I mistakenly assumed that the first of the DC Animated Movies was a continuation of the DCAU’s Superman. But no — DOOMSDAY was set to be a condensed adaptation of the DEATH OF SUPERMAN comic book storyline, featuring a completely different animation style and a brand-new voice cast. Naturally, I was crestfallen.

It didn’t help that the movie wasn’t very good. It was a bizarre attempt to stuff a two-year long story arc into 75 minutes, and the film consequently was met with a universal “meh” (incidentally, the DC Animated Movies’ original sin will be rectified next year with the release of DEATH OF SUPERMAN and REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN as a two-part film). This poor attempt at relaunching the DC animated brand gave me hope that producers Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and co. were going to make the right decision and bring back our beloved DCAU continuity and voice cast…

Then JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER came along. It was a Justice League origin story set during the cold war, boasting a campy flair that couldn’t have been more different from the DCAU. But, here’s the kicker… this time they got it right! Bringing a stellar original voice cast and distinctive Darwyn Cooke-inspired animation style, NEW FRONTIER succeeded where DOOMSDAY failed.

DC Animated Movies

It wasn’t until BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT that Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy made his triumphant return. The anime-inspired series of six mini-movies failed to make much of an impact, but it did establish something very important about the trajectory of the DC Animated Movies: they were always going to put story first, and any connection to the DCAU would simply be icing on the cake.

Timm and co. were wise to wait for a few movies before bringing back any of their original voice actors. This helped establish the DC Animated Movies in their own right. It allowed new actors to shine in the parts of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. It’s always a treat when Kevin Conroy returns to voice Batman, but Jason O’Mara makes a hell of a Dark Knight too. We would never have gotten to hear his raspy vocals for more than six films if not for Timm’s wise decision to set these movies apart.

NYCC 2017: Jason O’Mara Talks Being DC Comics’ Animated Batman

Ten years have passed since DOOMSDAY. Timm and his fellow producers have been churning out at least two or three films a year since. The total has now climbed to twenty-nine and will hit an amazing thirty films with the release of next year’s BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT. Those first twenty-nine films have varied in quality in terms of animation, voice acting, and storytelling. Some of them, like SUPERMAN: UNBOUND and BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE were unmitigated disasters. Others, like JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX and BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD were amazing adaptations and landmark achievements in animation. Then you have films like SON OF BATMAN and the aforementioned SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY, which fall into the decisively “okay” category.

There’s a lot of movies to cover, but ComicsVerse has undertaken the task of ranking the eighteen best DC Animated Movies. Stick with us, dear readers. By the time we’re done, that fresh copy of GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT should be waiting in your mailbox!

Here are ComicsVerse’s Top 18 DC Animated Movies!

18. SON OF BATMAN

DC Animated Movies

SON OF BATMAN was the 19th of the DC Animated Movies, and the first movie to feature Jason O’Mara’s stirring take on Batman. Along with Sean Maher’s Nightwing and Stuart Allen’s Robin, the three have become mainstays in the DC Animated Movies. SON OF BATMAN is also notable for being the first animated film to feature Damian Wayne, a fan-favorite character who’s become beloved for his adorable brand of bloodlust. Unfortunately, Damian’s personality registers dull as a doornail in this animated take. What should be a memorable father and son union instead barely registers in favor of a phoned-in plot involving Deathstroke’s hostile takeover of the League of Shadows.

There are some fun scenes, like Damian taking over Bruce’s office and Robin meeting Nightwing. However, the movie suffers from horrible pacing and a sense that every character involved is just going through the motions. Ethan Spaulding’s direction feels like he sleepwalked through production — consequently, the whole movie feels half-baked. The film’s saving grace is Sean Maher’s Nightwing, who injects gusts of bravado every time he’s on screen. It’s perhaps appropriate that the free-wheeling Nightwing is the only character who appears to be having any fun. Damian’s introduction should have been one for the ages. Instead, this movie disappears from memory after exactly 74 minutes.

17. BATMAN VS. ROBIN

The 22nd of the DC Animated Movies and the second entry in the Damian Wayne trilogy makes up for virtually all of its predecessor’s shortcomings — while introducing a few of its own. WB wisely replaced Spaulding with YOUNG JUSTICE alum Jay Oliva, who injects BATMAN VS. ROBIN with the same wit, verve, and energy he brought to that series.

BATMAN VS. ROBIN is filled with exciting action set pieces, pitting Batman and Robin against villains such as the Talons and the Dollmaker — and yes, each other. Where SON OF BATMAN failed to establish a strong father-son bond, this film tackles that lack of a dynamic head-on. BATMAN VS. ROBIN is about whether or not Bruce and Damian can learn to trust each other. They’re challenged by a Talon who gets in the middle and tempts Damian to the dark side. The battle for Damian’s soul fuels the drama of the film.

The Court of Owls Comes to Life

Also, yes, I’m referring to the Talons from Scott Snyder’s BATMAN: “The Court of Owls.” That’s the biggest shortcoming of this film. Despite BATMAN VS. ROBIN being focused on the Batman and Robin relationship, it’s also a loose adaptation of Snyder’s seminal work. Certain scenes translate reasonably well, such as Bruce’s drug-induced trip through the Owl’s labyrinth and the Talons’ invasion of the Batcave. Yet the fact that this storyline was adapted at all is troubling.

BATMAN VS. ROBIN’s appropriation of “The Court of Owls” is never really justified. After a while, the film starts to play as a randomly assembled “greatest hits” of popular sequences from the comic book. The narrative would have been much stronger if the production team had simply created an original villain to tempt Damian. Still, Oliva’s exciting direction and a renewed focus on the relationship between Bruce and Damian make up for the muddled plot.

16. BATMAN: BAD BLOOD

DC Animated Movies

Third time’s the charm, as they say. The third entry in the Damian Wayne trilogy is its best one. Oliva returns to helm the film, keeping the thrills mounting throughout, and sprinkling many welcome new characters into the mix. The 24th of the DC Animated Movies, BAD BLOOD features the debut of Batwoman and Batwing. They team up with Nightwing and Robin to search for a missing Batman, who’s being brainwashed by Talia Al Ghul.

Batwoman and Batwing are terrific characters in the comics, and their inclusion here was an inspired choice. Moreover, Sean Maher’s Nightwing gets to shine once again, as Dick Grayson dons the batsuit during Bruce’s absence. Dick remains the most well-rounded character in the trilogy. It’s wonderful to see him play an expanded role here — as the new Batman no less. Watching Dick wrestle with the role of Batman makes for juicy good fun.

Bruce Timm Talks DC’s 10th Anniversary at NYCC 2017! [Video]

Talia Gone Batty

Really the only notable flaw in the film — and it’s a big one — is the complete retconning of Talia’s character. She goes from a concerned and overprotective mother in SON OF BATMAN to a mad woman who’s perfectly willing to murder her own son. It’s no biggie, just as long as she gets to take over the world. The change is too jarring to ignore. Worst of all, the movie never bothers to explain it in any capacity, and the other characters accept it way too quickly. Even Damian takes his mother’s grotesque betrayal in stride.

Talia’s turn works in narrative terms, but it would have played so much better if it made a single lick of sense. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here, including a truly suspenseful finale that sees a brainwashed Bruce wielding a gun, Batwoman kicking the snot out of Talia, and Alfred street-brawling with the Mad Hatter. That last part alone is worth the price of a Blu-ray disc.

15. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE

DC Animated Movies

The follow-up to SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES should have been thrilling. Its plot promised a big Superman and Batman team-up against Darkseid. Instead, the film we got was rather muddled. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE featured a plot that mostly focused on Supergirl, while Batman and Superman bizarrely flew to the backburner. The movie also adds in Wonder Woman– one character too many — who brings Kara to Themyscira for training. All of this plays out as stall tactics, with the plot only kicking in when Darkseid’s forces kidnap Kara midway through the film.

Eventually, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman reach Apokolips and confront Darkseid, who lacks the presence we’re used to. A big part of this is the failure to bring back longtime Darkseid voice actor Michael Ironside. The veteran actor defined the role for so long in SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and JUSTICE LEAGUE. Andre Braugher replaces Ironside, but he lacks the gravitas and the cold, steely disdain for all life that made Ironside’s presence so God-like.

Man of Steel Vs. God of Apokolips

So why is this film even in the DC Animated Movies’ top 15? One reason: the World’s Finest Superman and Darkseid smackdown.

The movie ends with five minutes of sheer brawling bliss. The DCAU treated us to plenty of great Superman and Darkseid fights in SUPERMAN and JUSTICE LEAGUE, each one topping the last. Yet this one tops them all. The expanded budget really pays off here. Superman and Darkseid’s aerial battle bombards us with flurries of punches, omega beam blasts, and rock-smashing explosions. In five minutes this entire sequence almost makes up for the rest of the movie. In the end, the fight is not quite enough to save the film — but it’s certainly worthy of repeated views on Youtube.

14. JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR

DC Animated Movies

This follow-up to THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX marked the DC Animated Movies’ introduction to the New 52. WAR brought the younger members of the Justice League together for the first time. While not a landmark event like its predecessor, WAR is a lot of fun, mostly thanks to the interactions between the young Leaguers. Much like the comics that spawned him, the New 52 Superman is arrogant and full of himself, leading to a lot of bickering between him and the equally cocky Hal Jordan. The contest of wills between these two over-powered giants plays against the more down-to-earth Flash and the disinterested Batman. The young heroes are united by their hilariously entertaining infatuation with Wonder Woman, and the invading hordes of Darkseid’s minions from Apokolips.

WAR is a spectacle, chock full of action and a clash of personalities. It falters in the story department, however. Beneath the “first meeting” concept, there’s very little glue to hold the story together. The film manages to sustain itself only by bouncing from one set piece to another. Yet another problem is Michelle Monaghan’s Wonder Woman, whose performance is so horrible she very nearly derails the film. While all the other actors do a fine job, Monaghan’s one-note performance seems to suggest she’s performing a ham-fisted golden age Diana Prince, rather than her New 52 incarnation.

All in all, WAR is still a highly enjoyable film despite its uneven performances and thin plot. It succeeds on pure entertainment value. Moreover, WAR successfully opened the door to the New 52 era for the DC Animated Movies.

13. JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK

DC Animated Movies

The latest JUSTICE LEAGUE film is a radical departure from the other ventures of the DC Animated Movies. Wonder Woman and Superman make only brief cameos and Batman plays a supporting role. Instead, the focus is on Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, and Etrigan as they investigate a demonic entity that’s driving people mad by the hundreds.

Jay Oliva’s latest and reportedly final DC Animated Movie is a dark and moody triumph. It sets itself apart from the previous JL films through a darker animation style, gothic tone, and spine-tingling score. The whole movie plays like an animated horror film, and it’s a welcome change of pace. DARK is filled with undead spirits, magical spells, and resurrected demons, all contributing to the movie’s distinctively spooky feel.

Doing it Constantine’s Way

Constantine largely carries JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. The humorous interactions between him and the other characters bring a lot of the movie’s more entertaining moments. Constantine is a tad more cynical and less deliberately provocative than his comic counterpart, but it’s delightful watching him rub just about everybody the wrong way.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: Dark Spaces, Demon Races, and Cold Cases

There isn’t really anything negative about the movie, except perhaps Batman’s role as a fifth wheel. Batman doesn’t contribute much — other than a handful of Batarangs. He does provide an essential bridge between the Justice League we know and love, and this new darker team of heroes. Batman’s role is much like Wolverine’s in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the bridge between teams past and present.

All in all, JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK is a moody and thrilling departure from the DC Animated Movies’ norm. WB would do well to make a series of movies with the DARK heroes. For now, this film is a fitting sendoff for Oliva, who’s been with DC since 2010, and has earned a new chapter. At least he’s left us with a delightfully spooky treat, just in time for Halloween.

12. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES

This was the reunion I’d been waiting for since the DC Animated Movies began. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES brought back many of the beloved voice actors, including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. The plot saw Luthor, the newly elected President of the United States, framing Superman for the murder of Metallo and placing a bounty on his head. Helped along by Batman, the two heroes fight their way through hordes of villains looking to collect, and even a few fellow heroes — like Captain Atom and Power Girl — who are now in the government’s employ.

Our favorite voice actors slip back into their roles like gloves, and it’s thrilling to hear them back in action. The performances of Conroy, Daly, and Brown elevate the film to greatness. There’s a pure ecstatic joy that comes from simply watching the World’s Finest romp across the U.S. in pursuit of Luthor, fighting off everyone who gets in their way. The plot is fairly simple as superhero stories go. Yet the dazzling spectacle and super-powered fights more than make up for it.

World’s Finest Smackdown

Plus, PUBLIC ENEMIES boasts one of the most thrilling finales of all the DC Animated Movies. It includes Batman flying a gigantic Superman & Batman robot hybrid (think Transformer or Megazord) into outer space to destroy a Kryptonite meteor, while Superman beats the living Kryptonite out of President Luthor. The famously cocky Luthor finds himself whining about being the President, right before Superman delivers the punchline — to his face. “Consider yourself impeached.” This glorious line encapsulates the mood of the entire film. It’s pure action, pure thrills, pure fun.

Now if only Superman could do that to our current president, eh?

11. JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER

DC Animated Movies

The Cold War setting and campy vibe are initially off-putting. Once you settle in for the ride, though, JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER takes you on a thrilling journey to the past. Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and J’onn J’onzz are the stars of the show. Writer Stan Berkowitz managed to seamlessly weave their origins into the fabric of Cold War hysteria, and it’s remarkable.

J’onn, in particular, is a perfect stand-in for the ‘other.’ The government’s mistrust of aliens is synonymous with Red Scare paranoia. It says a lot that this film, which was written in 2008 and takes place 60 years ago, is particularly relevant today when the distrust of the ‘other’ is at a renewed high. The unintentional present-day commentary is a sure sign of a story’s timelessness.

Hal Jordan Takes Flight

The focus on Hal Jordan was also an inspired choice. It would have been all too easy to focus a film of this setting and story on a classic ‘American’ hero like Superman or Wonder Woman. Instead, THE NEW FRONTIER is very much about Hal’s journey from bombastic hotshot pilot to a true brave hero of mankind. David Boreanaz makes a great Hal, selling the hero’s cocky charm but also his underlying vulnerabilities. The voice cast overall does a remarkable job, naturally transplanting our greatest heroes 60 years in the past.

NEW FRONTIER’s animation style is pure Darwyn Cooke, seamlessly bringing the panels of his comic to life. The story is as simple as can be, with our heroes uniting against the threat of Dinosaur Island. Yet the simplicity is appropriate for a story that takes place in a simpler time and presents a straightforward message of hope. It’s one that we’d all do well to remember — that the true path to salvation is found in uniting together and standing up for what’s right. It’s the DC Animated Movies’ purest venture, and ultimately one of its best.

10. BATMAN: YEAR ONE

DC Animated Movies

Frank Miller’s classic tale of Batman’s origins received an incredible DC Animated Movies adaptation with 2011’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE. It’s not quite as perfect as the adaptation of Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Nevertheless, the YEAR ONE film nails down the tone of the comic by turning the movie into a full-fledged noir detective story.

Much like the comic, the protagonist isn’t Batman, it’s Commissioner Gordon. Of course, the film covers Batman’s first year in Gotham, but it’s told through Gordon’s eyes and narration. Like all the great noir heroes, Gordon is a flawed protagonist. He cheats on his pregnant wife and deliberately works against Gotham’s (admittedly corrupt) police force. All the while, Gordon suffers turbulent inner monologues, terrifically performed by Bryan Cranston, as Gordon questions who he is and who he’s becoming.

Animation Noir

Cranston leads the impressive vocal ensemble, all of whom sound like they emerged straight out of a 1940s radio drama. The animation is appropriately gritty, with bleak, depressing colors and a nearly black and white hue. This is a depressing world where Bruce Wayne needs to find solace in bats, Selina Kyle is a prostitute, and Gordon’s biggest enemy is himself. The film takes all the usual Batman trappings and turns them inwards, shining a spotlight on the depressive nature of Batman’s story.

One downside: because of the film’s penchant for inner monologues, the pacing drags at times. But that’s a problem par for the course when adapting comic books that feature heavy narration. You either have to roll with it, or just get rid of it entirely (like Jay Oliva did with part two of TDKR). Overall, BATMAN: YEAR ONE is a winner for boiling its source material down to its core essence, and presenting it beautifully in film format. It’s one of the DC Animated Movies’ cleanest adaptations.

9. SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE

DC Animated Movies

Is Superman still relevant? For me, the answer is a resounding yes. Yet for many, the question doesn’t have such a simple answer. In a day and age mired in conflict and the loss of hope, many question whether a hero like Superman can still matter. SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE tackles that question head-on and does so brilliantly.

The villain Manchester Black and his band of cronies, calling themselves the Elite, arrive in Metropolis and begin symbolically tearing down everything Superman stands for. At first, they proclaim that they’ve come to help. Superman quickly becomes mistrustful of Manchester’s murderous impulses — which are exactly what makes everyone love his team. The public craves violent and permanent solutions to the world’s problems, and that’s precisely what Manchester offers. Superman pleads with the public to pursue what’s right — truth, justice, and the American way, more or less. Yet to the people of Metropolis, the American way — Superman’s way — is a thing of the past.

Alan Burnett Talks The 10th Anniversary of DC Comics at NYCC 2017! [Video]

Superman in 21st Century America

SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE gets major points for tackling this topic directly. The brilliance of the film lies in its initial undermining, and eventual absolution, of Superman’s message. It helps that George Newbern of JUSTICE LEAGUE returned to voice Superman, providing a sense of continuum with a Superman we know and love. Newbern’s performance reveals plenty of conflict and pain but, ultimately, rage. The film’s finale features Superman going all out against the Elite. The Man of Steel lets loose completely and utterly destroys them — or so it would appear.

As usual, Superman had an ace up his sleeve. Sure, Superman could easily destroy the Elite if he wanted to, just like he could have destroyed his many adversaries. Yet if he did, he’d lose his soul, and so would all the people who look up to him. Superman explains all of this to an enraged Manchester. Superman’s point is that the world might be in horrible shape right now, but that’s exactly why he needs to keep fighting. He’ll never stop, not until his dream of justice for the whole world comes true. It’s a poignant message, one we all need to hear right now. It’s why SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE is one of the most resonant DC Animated Movies.

8. JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS

DC Animated Movies

JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS was originally commissioned as a bridge movie between JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. For its eventual release, Timm and co. repurposed the film as a stand-alone animated feature — and thank Hera for that. The seventh of the DC Animated Movies, JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS explores a heroic Lex Luthor from another dimension who travels to the DCU Earth we know. There he collects the Justice League to help him fight his world’s Crime Syndicate, who are basically evil versions of our heroes.

I love alternate universe storylines, and this one is beautifully realized. The Crime Syndicate, comprised of Ultraman, Owlman, Power Ring, Superwoman, and Johnny Quick, have successfully intimidated this world’s government into submission. Alternate America’s President Wilson is a fascinating character. He rings true as a political leader who’s forced to compromise his morals and integrity for the sake of the populace. Our familiar heroes integrate here in fascinating and believable ways. This is particularly true of the touching romance between Martian Manhunter and the President’s outspoken daughter, Rose, who adamantly opposes her father’s stance.

Batman Vs. Owlman

The real standout is Owlman, who on his world started out very much like Batman. Since then, he has become a cold, calculating nihilist bent on the destruction of the entire multiverse. James Woods performs Owlman with chillingly icy verve, the definite standout among a stellar voice cast. William Baldwin also makes a memorable turn as Batman, who faces off with his psychopathic counterpart in the movie’s gripping finale.

The only major issue I have with CRISIS is Batman’s decision making, which feels a bit off. To start, he refuses to accompany the League when they travel to the alternate Earth. Moreover, Batman is perfectly willing to let Owlman die, and he deliberately sacrifices Johnny Quick in order to open a multi-dimensional portal. These actions seem very un-Batman like, and they bother me as a long time Bat-fan.

Still, the quality of the movie itself is superb. CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS isn’t terribly distinctive like NEW FRONTIER or dramatically challenging like JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS. It’s just really, really good. At the end of the day, that’s what counts.

7. WONDER WOMAN

DC Animated Movies

Eight years before Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN finally graced the silver screen, the DC Animated Movies told a brilliant origin story in an animated film of the same name. Featuring many of the same beats as the live action movie, the animated WONDER WOMAN still holds its own in retrospect. In some ways, the animated movie depicts Diana Prince more accurately. She’s a fierce woman and passionate warrior, less innocent and child-like than Gal Gadot’s portrayed.

The animated version also spends an extended period of time on Themyscira, depicting the lives of many of the Amazons and allowing us to get to know the culture intimately. A particularly fun sequence involves Diana sneaking her way into a contest of skills for the right to escort Stever Trevor back to the U.S. (and winning, obviously), despite her mother’s forbidding.

Wonder Woman Takes Over Man’s World

The Diana and Steve Trevor romance in this film blossoms wonderfully. There’s a charming sequence where Steve becomes increasingly intoxicated in a bar, and an impatient Diana fails to feel anything at all. The human moments feel wonderfully balanced with the heroic ones. It all builds terrifically to the final fight with Ares in the depths of Hades itself. Unlike the major weak point of the feature film, this Ares is a fully realized threat. He’s preparing to turn America’s nuclear weapons on Themyscira in order to start a war. This Ares feels truly ancient and powerful, the genuine God of War (not a mustached pretender in a trench coat).

Bottom line, every piece that is the puzzle of WONDER WOMAN fits together beautifully. It’s overall just a very competently made and well-told film. We may have the live action WONDER WOMAN film now, but this 2009 gem shouldn’t be forgotten. It was only the fourth of the DC Animated Movies, and still one of the best.

6. JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS

DC Animated Movies

JUSTICE LEAGUE & TEEN TITANS VS. THE DEVIL would have been a more accurate title (though one can see how that would have scared off a good portion of WB’s marketing base). Misrepresentation aside, JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS is an instant classic. The most immediately compelling aspect of the film is its brazen approach to dealing with some very dark subject matter.

The film takes place in the same universe as the SON OF BATMAN trilogy, and Damian Wayne is carried over as the de facto protagonist. However, this story completely belongs to Raven. She was always the most interesting character in the TEEN TITANS animated series. This film presents the truly horrific details of her backstory in a way the cartoon never could. Essentially, Raven is the daughter of Trigon, aka the DCU’s version of Satan himself. He seeks to return to Earth using the Justice League as his demonic vessels.

Teen Titans and the Occult

JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS immediately earns points for unapologetically exploring Satanism and the occult while seamlessly blending it with traditional comic book heroics. Trigon is brilliantly animated, brought to life as a towering 50 ft. demon with deliberate design nods to the classic animated devils of FERN GULLY and FANTASIA. Moreover, the characters are supremely well-balanced, with each member of the League and the Titans getting their chance to shine.

Plus, the film gives Damian Wayne a complete arc in a way his own trilogy never did. Damian fights side by side with the Titans in the pits of hell, where he encounters a figure from his past. This sincerely shocking twist allows Damian some closure for a plot thread that was left dangling since SON OF BATMAN.

Raven is still the real star of the show. Her tragic relationship with her demonic father is emotionally compelling. It gives her the kind of singular purpose most superheroic protagonists lack. After all, how many super-powered beings are so selfless that they dedicate their entire existence to keeping their Satanic father locked in a crystal? Raven is a wonderfully realized triumph of animated storytelling. She alone grants JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS a high place in our top eighteen DC Animated Movies.

5. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN

DC Animated Movies

Forget SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY, or even the famous storyline it’s based on. This is how you do the death of Superman.

Based on the famed Grant Morrison comic of the same name, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN deals with a Superman at the end of his life. Poisoned by solar radiation in a scheme perpetrated by Lex Luthor, Superman spends his last days making preparations and spending time with the woman he loves. Scenes with Superman and Lois Lane are filled with emotion, as he finally lets her in on his secret identity. The film also intimately translates the Superman and Lex Luthor relationship. It brings to light Luthor’s true intentions in a way that’s almost redemptive. Plus, it features a remarkable chase sequence where Clark fumbles his way through a prison riot, while secretly using his powers to help. It’s a sequence that would have done Christopher Reeve proud.

NYCC 2017: Interview with SUPERMAN and HOUSE OF PENANCE writer Peter J. Tomasi

Up, Up, and Away

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN’s main problem is it tries to do too much with too little running time. Some of the sequences feel randomly inserted and don’t add much to the plot. Scenes featuring Superman’s contest against two time-travelers and the sudden invasion of two Kryptonians are remarkably out of place. Still, the film manages to cohere by the end, featuring the final confrontation between Superman and Luthor. It’s an ending for both characters that feels utterly right.

The final goodbye between Superman and Lois is utterly heartbreaking. It features wonderful animation and a stirring, emotional score by Christopher Drake. The Man of Steel’s ultimate sacrifice for humanity is unforgettable. This story is non-canon, so of course, we’ve seen Superman in plenty of DC Animated Movies since. Yet, if Superman’s story should ever end, there is no way it will ever top his send-off in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. This adaptation honors the original storyline with humor and heart, shining brightly as one of the greatest Superman movies ever made.

4. TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT

DC Animated Movies

If you thought JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS was mature, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT is based on Marv Wolfman’s classic storyline, albeit with a few important (and very effective) dramatic changes. The film spotlights Terra, the Titans newest member, a 15-year-old girl with geokinetic abilities. She also happens to be a mole for the recently resurrected Deathstroke, who’s working for a sadistic group called Brother Blood (this TEEN TITANS movie series really enjoys its Satanic cults). The immortal ruler of this group intends to round up and eliminate the Titans.

In the comic series, Terra was simply an unstable psychopath. The movie version improves upon this by exploring her deep-rooted trauma and inner pain. She’s a teenage girl who’s seen nothing but abuse her whole life. She really just wants to be loved, and unfortunately, seeks it from the wrong place. This story is undoubtedly a tragedy, with Terra at the center. Her storyline takes THE JUDAS CONTRACT to deeply troubling and heart-wrenching places.

On top of this, the interactions between the Titans are wonderfully human. The film plays as a super-powered coming of age story, with superb individual story arcs for Damian, Beast Boy, and Blue Beetle. There’s great teen romance aplenty too, such as the doomed flirtation between Beast Boy and Terra, the oddball coupling of Damian and Raven, and the mature fireworks of Starfire and Nightwing. I’ve previously expressed my admiration for Sean Maher’s animated Dick Grayson. THE JUDAS CONTRACT provides the best opportunity yet for him to shine. Once the other Titans are rounded up, Dick takes center stage, and it’s great to see him hold his own against Deathstroke.

Nightwing Strikes Again

Still, Nightwing is the one problem area in a film that tries to marry a few storylines together. The film acts as a sequel to JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS. Yet it’s also a continuation of the Robin and Deathstroke relationship from SON OF BATMAN, and an adaptation of JUDAS CONTRACT. The film juggles all these elements remarkably well (much better than BATMAN VS. ROBIN or SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY) but the last act focus on Dick seems off. The film’s first two acts spend much more time with the other Titans. The only real justification for Nightwing’s sudden prominence is adherence to the comic book. This strikes me as a time in which the film could have taken creative liberties, perhaps swapping Damian for Dick since Robin had the personal connection to Deathstroke.

All things considered, this is a wonderfully fresh adaptation of Wolfman’s classic story, adding significantly to the source material. TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT is the most mature of the DC Animated Movies to date. In its usage of Terra, it crafts the most complete arc of any single character in the DC Animated Movies. It’s a story of trauma, and how that trauma can permanently impact and define a young person’s life. Sometimes, not even a loving adoptive family is enough.

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX

DC Animated Movies

The DC Animated Movies’ adaptation of Geoff Johns FLASHPOINT is utterly fantastic from beginning to end. THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX faithfully brings the story to life through fluid animation and wonderful vocal performances. The famous storyline features Barry Allen traveling back in time to prevent the murder of his mother, resulting in an altered timeline and a world on the brink of destruction.

Aquaman and Wonder Woman are leading separate kingdoms into war with each other. Superman is a prisoner of the government who’s never seen the sun. Thomas Wayne has become Batman after his wife and son were murdered in an alleyway. None of these story points are throwaways. Each alternate character feels fully formed, especially Thomas Wayne as Batman. Kevin McKidd gives a haunting performance as the voice of a Batman who should never be. He will stop at nothing to return the world to its proper state in order to save his son.

The Return of Barry Allen

One of the great joys of FLASHPOINT PARADOX is the emphasis on Barry Allen, who hasn’t had another spotlight animated feature before or since. People often underestimate straight shooter Barry’s ability to carry a film. Yet FLASHPOINT PARADOX finally does his storyline justice. The film offers a look at the gifts and the curse that comes with bearing the Speed Force.

FLASHPOINT PARADOX also delivers a spine-tingling depiction of Barry’s ultimate nemesis, Eobard Thawne (aka Professor Zoom). His haunting obsession with Barry translates faithfully to the film. He’s one of the most memorable villains of the DC Animated Movies as a result. Barry resiliently decides to turn the world right again. However, doing so will mean losing his mother all over again, as Thawne gleefully reminds him. Flash’s inner turmoil adds yet another layer of complexity to a film that establishes a fully realized universe.

THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX is an animation triumph. The film takes one of comics’ most beloved alternate world storylines and injects it with new life. It remains a hallmark of the DC Animated Moves, against which all other films are judged. Much like the Flash himself, it has yet to be surpassed — except by the last two films on this list.

2. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS PARTS 1 & 2

DC Animated Movies

For THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Frank Miller’s seminal tale of an elderly Bruce Wayne and his final nights as Batman, WB finally wised up. Rather than mutilating the story to fit a 75 minute run time, they split the movie into two parts. This gave director Jay Oliva the time he needed to do the story justice, and it paid off.

The two-part film is a near-perfect adaptation, bringing the story phenomenally to life and giving the book’s iconic scenes the weight they deserved. Two-Face’s redemption and ultimate relapse are every bit as haunting as in the comic. Batman’s final confrontations with the Joker is equal parts disturbing and poetic, assisted by a soul-chilling performance from Michael Emerson. The iconic fight between Batman and a government-controlled Superman amazingly works even better on film than it did in the comics. The battle surges with a scope and grandiosity befitting the two comic book icons.

Miller’s World Comes to Life

Really, the only thing to complain about is a dull vocal narration in part one that slowed down the beginnings of certain sequences. Recognizing their uselessness, Oliva cut these narrations out for part two, resulting in a ten out of ten movie. On a sheer storytelling level, everything about these films works perfectly. The animation takes Miller’s imagery and brings it to life with stunning new vitality.

Peter Weller delivers a stirring turn as Batman, his grizzled vocals perfectly emphasizing a Batman who’s seen too many nights. Oliva’s vision is the perfect marriage between comic book and film.  THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Parts 1 & 2 are an important benchmark of the DC Animated Movies’ adaptations. The films hit home an important point: that when the source material has the space it needs to breathe, greatness can be achieved.

1. BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD

DC Animated Movies

The story of Jason Todd’s death and resurrection has gone down in comics history as one of Batman’s darkest sagas. Joker brutally murdered Jason Todd, the second Robin, in A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. Years later, the Lazarus Pits resurrected Jason as the masked vigilante Red Hood in the series UNDER THE HOOD.

The movie adaptation fuses both stories into something more dramatic, more powerful, and ultimately better than the comics that spawned it. The film version benefited from having UNDER THE HOOD writer Judd Winick in hand to write his own adaptation. The result is a movie rich with pathos and psychologically harrowing storytelling. Jason returns from death to seek revenge against the Joker, but also, ultimately, to ask Bruce one important question — why did you keep the Joker alive?

A Sledgehammer to the Face

UNDER THE RED HOOD is so dramatic that individual scenes are capable of rendering a powerful emotional response without having any clue what the rest of the movie is about. Try it. Watch any sequence — Jason’s murder; Batman and Red Hood’s alleyway battle; Jason, Bruce and Joker’s final confrontation — any of these sequences alone wield the dramatic power of a sledgehammer to the face. UNDER THE RED HOOD fires on all cylinders. It hooks you in from the very first frame and never lets us go.

The movie’s power ultimately grows from Jason’s question. His fury is our fury. In fact, we agree with him. Joker murdered Robin, and Batman did nothing. Why?! The question permeates the movie as a viciously accelerating undercurrent. Indeed, the question is so infuriating that it continually rises in volume, by the end leaving the viewer screaming at Batman along with Jason — why couldn’t you let your rule go, just this once?! Why couldn’t you kill the Joker?!

Yet Batman never answers. He may not know the answer himself. But it’s a question that will linger in your mind long after the end credits roll. If you only watch one movie from the DC Animated Universe, make it UNDER THE RED HOOD. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

10 Years of DC Animated Movies

DC Animated Movies

Did you check your mailbox? GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT still hasn’t arrived?! Well, it’s just around the corner!

Ten years, twenty-nine films. The amount grows each year. The DCUOAM haven’t been perfect. They’ve faced plenty of hurdles and produced a few miserable titles along the way. Yet this isn’t a case of a brand that started strong and began to diminish. This is the story of a universe that took time to find its footing, falters every now and then, but continually adds to a wonderful library of films. What started as the spark of an idea in Bruce Timm’s imagination has grown to encompass every major character in the DC Universe. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash. Each of these characters has been given at least one spotlight film. Many of those films have presented us with the best the DC Universe has to offer.

That’s the truly wonderful thing about what Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Jay Oliva, and all the creative giants at DC Animation have done. They’ve raised previously acclaimed stories like FLASHPOINT, ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to astounding new heights. The adaptations are never cheap cash-grabs. Even when the effort falls short, there’s still a clear love for these characters that always shines through. These movies have a way of bringing out the best of their source material. They treat their characters with dignity and passion. That’s why a decade has gone by, and the DC Animated Movies show no sign of slowing down.

Here’s hoping this is just the beginning, with at least another ten years to come.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Jose

    October 26, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    Sorry but you guys forgot assault on arkham the fight between batman and the suicide squad one of the best plus the joker way better that many

    Reply

    • Aaron Berke

      November 9, 2017 at 3:43 pm

      Jose, look for BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM to be included when we do our updated rankings at the end of the year! It’s going to include every DC Animated Movie ever. 🙂

      Reply

  2. Renji Kuriakose

    October 26, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is my favorite DC Animated movie of all time.

    Reply

    • Aaron Berke

      November 9, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      Hey Renji, I’m in total agreement with you there. I didn’t include BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM in the list because it’s not one of the official DC Universe Animated Movies. That being said, you can definitely expect to see BATMAN: MOTP on the list when we do our updated rankings at the end of the year, which will include every DC Animated Movie ever!

      Reply

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